My Feelings of Exploitation (from Visions)

Some things are really hard to talk about. Is it safe to say that I feel as though my mind has been exploited?

Do you know why I get sad? Because of all the terrible things that happen in this world. Because people get hurt. Because people suffer. Because people die in cruel and unfair ways. Because the world is cruel. Ever seen the music video What I’ve Done by Linkin Park or Harakiri by Serj Tankian? The images of violence wrought upon the innocent is strong in both cases. The showcasing of corruption, human corruption and degradation, is apparent.

I suffer mentally because I’m sensitive to all of this. I think there are many reasons for this, but I will focus on the two most prominent ones.

The first reason is not as important as the second reason, but it’s because of my upbringing. I was abused, physically and mentally, as a child. Now, I grant that others have gone through much as worse as children, but my upbringing was still pretty brutal. I remember hating my father, and wanting to just grow up so I no longer had to suffer.

The second reason is much more important, and it’s because of my mental illness, such as the symptoms, as well as what that illness has brought me. My mental illness, rather than desensitizing me to human suffering through time, actually heightens my awareness. I am acutely aware of the human suffering that exists because I also feel like I have been exploited. I’m not going to go into victim rhetoric, and playing the victim, but I do think that I have been exploited.

There’s something irreversible about living with a mind that has been exploited. I think about all the people in the world who have been subjected to cruelty, whether once or on a regular basis. I am especially sensitive to the suffering of children. I won’t go into the details of how children are exploited and abused, but I don’t need to. Let’s just say that I know these things happen to children, and it makes me hurt within. It makes my mind hurt, and it makes my heart ache. My mood literally declines when I think of human suffering, especially when it happens to children.

There’s something about being subjected to cruelty when you’re little, that you just can’t outgrow or ever escape. I am obsessed with my childhood because I never escaped childhood. Because, I didn’t grow up properly. As I see it, my mental growth was literally stunted, when they locked me up in the mental hospital when I was fifteen. I remember a friend called me when I was locked up for the first time, and I said, kind of jokingly but also scared, “I’m in a mental hospital.”

How do you forget something like that? How do you forget people, staff members working in the hospital, literally tackling you to the floor and dragging you into an isolation room, strapping your ankles and wrists down with you on your stomach, telling you to take medication or they’re going to keep you straightjacketed? How dehumanizing and humiliating such an experience is, where you choke down the medication with hysterical sobbing because you just want to please the people around you, and your adolescent mind still hasn’t grasped that you have a right to rebel but not in all circumstances.

No, I have never been sexually abused. No, I have never been homeless and had to hustle in illegal and dehumanizing ways. No, I’ve never been hungry or had to scrounge for trash in a giant landfill to make a few bucks for my family in a third world country. But when people ask me if I understand human suffering, I can say that I understand it all too well. This isn’t because I have experienced homelessness or the tyrannies of a dictatorship, but because I have been subjected, oppressed. It is because my mind was made sensitive by its diagnosis, and my mood literally attaches to notions of human cruelty … especially, unfortunately for my fragile and confused psyche, as it applies to children. There’s nothing I can stand more than a child being mistreated.

I empathize with all children, but I have a soft spot for a boy being abused. That is probably because I see myself in the kid. I shouldn’t: How selfish that probably makes me, to think that I can identify with the suffering of another child that does not align with my timeline! But nonetheless, whether I read about it in fiction, the newspapers, etc., I can’t help but feel a longing … a longing for restoration, a chance to not be hurt. Just a chance to not be hurt.

I carry with me the badge of exploitation. I do believe I have been exploited. I try to stay on strong ethical grounds and think things through logically and rationally and objectively when suffering exists and I hear about it or encounter it in some way, but it’s hard not to die by my sword and feel outrage when people are hurt, and I do nothing about it.

Yes, yes, I can hear the complaints: I haven’t been exploited in the terrible ways other people have been. I’ve just had miserable experiences in hospitals.

But is it really that simple, or is there something to be said about a mental illness heightening ones sensitivity to suffering, to the point to where you obsess about whether or not you could potentially become a source of that suffering, the very thing you never want to be? Is there something to be said that because my mind has been exploited, targeted, as abnormal and wrong, that I can say that I have indeed a connection to other people who have been exploited, maybe that little kid you just saw got bullied in school and is crying because he’s hurt?

All of this probably makes me look very, very weak. That objection, that criticism, means nothing to me. It means nothing to me because I carry around this burden, I carry around my exploitation, in the hopes that I can eventually make others happy. So far this hasn’t worked out, especially when it comes to kids. On more than one occasion, I have made connections with kids, usually boys (who I can relate to very well), and it isn’t long before, because of my mental illness and the mindset of modern culture, that I am perceived as having malintent for these children. I remember a neighbor saying, in response to me feeling sad that I couldn’t work with children in legitimate organizations, “Well, if you can get people to trust you with their children,” the point being, I won’t do that. People profile me in all sorts of ways, the bottom line being, I’d be someone who would hurt their children … the very thing I would never want to do. And that is because, I am sensitive to exploitation.

You see, it’s this sensitivity to other’s pain that could drive one mad, like a splinter in the brain. Sure, there might be a problem when you don’t care enough, but there might be a problem too when you care too much, because you speak and act irrationally, groping blindly to try and help the situation, to just make sure that a little kid doesn’t suffer, for fucking sake, which makes the situation worse because people don’t understand your behavior and the red flag of your diagnosis just increases suspicion and unrest and hostility. Or when you see a homeless man being bullied by the public, and you can’t do anything but feel sad and alienated. Or when you hear about the atrocities of ISIS and it’s so over your head that you just want to collapse from your compressed heart.

You see, I am sensitive to these things. I want it to stop, and the fact that it continues without my consent literally drives me insane. What can I do to change any of it, I ask, and I ask over and over again, and act over and over again, but get nowhere. But that’s the cost of being sensitive. I acknowledge it, and I try to do something with it. And if I’m not doing anything with it, I know that eventually I will.

R.D. Laing says beautifully in his book Knots, “I’m unhappy because you’re unhappy.” This captures me well. I just want people to be happy. Is it wrong to dream about things so far removed from the world as peace and love and compassion? It would seem so. It would seem like hopeless romanticizing and vacuous moralizing. But I don’t care. I have heart for a reason. I don’t just have mind. I have heart, and that is the product of how people have exploited me because my mind doesn’t quite work for them, because my mind is different, because my mind doesn’t work.

I hope I’ve made sense; I have, unfortunately, just barely scratched the surface. But I’m definitely trying to make it explicit that the fact that the world suffers literally increases my suffering. I was wounded when I was a teenager, and every time I see someone else being wounded, it’s like someone just poured something acidic into my wound. Yes, yes, I get it: My mind doesn’t work right. My mind is wrong. That’s why I take medication, go to psychiatrists and therapists, and sometimes get institutionalized.

But every time you remind me of that, you’re exploiting me, and my mind. Not physically, thankfully, but definitely mentally. (It brings up all the baggage of my past and all the connotations that come from having what society perceives to be a useless mind.) And what do we have if we don’t have the mind?

Just remember that.

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